Researchers Suggest Biofilm Exacerbates Antibiotic Resistance

Under a magnification of 2363X, this scanning electron microscopic (SEM) image of a Staphylococcus biofilm was based on the culture obtained from the inner surface of a needleless connector. Courtesy of CDC/Dr. Rodney M. Donlan

Bowler, et al. (2020) sought to raise awareness of the role of environmental biofilm in the emergence and spread of antibiotic resistance and its consideration in antimicrobial stewardship.

The researchers explain, "Antibiotic resistance is a major threat to public health. Overuse of antibiotics, increased international travel, and genetic promiscuity amongst bacteria have contributed to antibiotic resistance, and global containment efforts have so far met with limited success. Antibiotic resistance is a natural mechanism by which bacteria have adapted to environmental threats over billions of years and is caused either by genetic mutations or by horizontal gene transfer. Another ancient survival strategy involves bacteria existing within a self-produced polymeric matrix, which today is termed biofilm. Biofilm similarly enables bacterial tolerance to environmental threats, and also encourages the transfer of antibiotic resistance genes between bacterial species. This natural and ubiquitous mode of bacterial life has not been considered amongst strategies to tackle antibiotic resistance in healthcare facilities, despite its ability to significantly enhance bacterial survival and persistence, and to encourage antibiotic resistance."

The researchers conclude that biofilm must be considered synonymously with antibiotic resistance because of its proficiency in transferring resistance genes as well as its innate phenotypic tolerance to antibiotics. Although biofilm falls outside of the current definition of antimicrobial stewardship, greater awareness of the existence, ubiquity, and consequences of environmental biofilm amongst healthcare practitioners is crucial to improving hygiene practices and controlling the emergence and spread of antibiotic resistance in healthcare facilities.

Bowler P, Murphy C and Wolcott R. Biofilm exacerbates antibiotic resistance: Is this a current oversight in antimicrobial stewardship?
Antimicrobial Resistance & Infection Control. Vol, 9, No. 162. 2020.

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